Middle School Students finish their science class, and we begin to move the desks to the perimeter of the classroom; and with their chairs, they form a circle. While sitting in the circle, it is essential that everyone can effortlessly see one another, which in turn ensures that everyone can also be seen. As the facilitator, it is my role to help us guide the discussion and stay to topic. After each of us have responded to an initial Circle Question, I tell this story:
I was speaking today on the phone with our guest, from a few weeks ago. He shared with me that he was trying to figure out what we should do with disruptive students, students in a classroom that demand too much attention from the teacher and command too much attention of their classmates. He had a few ideas, and I shared with him mine, but now I post that same question to you- what do you think we should do with disruptive students?
Hands go up, and I look to Marisol, “Well, what you mean, what weeea should do with them?” She elongated “we” with an up and open “uh” sound at the end.
“Well, anyone,” I answered.
“Like do you mean, like suspension, or just go to the office,” David offered.
Releasing and dropping the strand of Marisols hair she had been twisting, Crystal huffed, uncrossing her leg, and planting both feet on the floor. “He means like the school.”
“Or the teacher, or the school district, or you.” I punctuated the last with a smile, looking around at the eleven 12- and 13-year old faces present in our group today.
Marisol raised her hand again, “Marisol,” I inquired.
“Well, I think that if your disruptive, you should have to go to the office, but that the teacher should be not boring too.”
“OK, so you are ready to answer,” I said smiling. “And which direction do you want to go?” She pointed to Crystal sitting to her right, “OK, so we’ll go right. Do you want to start us off then, Marisol?”
“Uhh, yes.” Huff. That the student should have to go the office. And, the teacher should be talking about interesting stuff.”
“Good, Crystal.” I said, looking to Marisol’s right. Crystal adjusts in her seat.
“Do you have an answer to the question?”
“Well, tell US,” exclaimed Marisol.
“Uh, ok, so I think the student should go to the office.” Crystal replied.
“OK,” I said, but also prompted her, “ but, do you mean on the first offense, like, at the first sign of not following instruction, or…”
“Well, not on the first offense,” Crystal said. Students blurted out their own response to that, saying things like, not the first offense, noooooo, and well, not the first offense but maybe, like the fourth, or something like that…
“OK OK, Let’s remember our circle respect. DO we have to start again,” I asked to a clamor of no’s. “Crystal, is that your final answer,” I asked, mimicking the popular television quote, as the group settled.
Crystal replied again, “go to the office, not on the first offense.”
“Good,” I said. The next person after Crystal was Bea. Bea repeated the same, go to the office, but not on first offense. But she also added, “But, if it’s like the third time that the teacher has to ask you to quiet down, then you need to go out.”
Billy went next, and agreed, go to the office, third offense. “But what if it’s everyday that this student is acting up?” I interjected again.
This time, the group waited for Billy’s response. “Then, the parent’s could be called.” “Parents called,” was repeated. “Then expelled,” someone else blurted.
“Hey, hey. Is that what you would do then with a disruptive student, expel them?” I asked. “Let’s hear from Dex.”
We continued to listen to students respond, but the remaining all finished their answers with, expel them. As soon as the last student had responded and the floor was open for discussion, Marisol complained, “Expell them, just for acting up in class?” It was a question for the group, and Billy answered.
“Yes, expel after they’ve been warned.”
“But, expelled,” Marisol pressed. This time Carl answered, yes, expelled. Kelton, Marie and Langella all said expel in unison.
As the students volleyed with their arguments, it was clear, the dawning realization on the face of Marisol. You see, Marisol was the disruptive student. She was smart, she was tall, she was heavyset, and good looking, and she did command a presence in a room. But, here we were, and one after another, her peers were saying that if a student is always disruptive, that student should be gone. They weren’t saying it to her about her, not remarkably, but of the eleven, only one girl said no to expulsion. That girl was on the outside of Marisol’s clique, and admired her all the more. Two students didn’t have a final answer. But, seven out of eleven did. They said, very clearly, if you are going to act up in class, and take time away from the other students, that you should be expelled. And Marisol, the student that does disrupt their class often, got to hear it from them, safely. It was a great discussion. Next discussion, though, we will springboard from performer to audience. For, if there were no audience…
(Disclaimer: Today’s discussion held innocent the students who turn in their chair to laugh, or stop working themselves when a student acts out. This is a common thread of our discussions and a worthy one. But, today too, was worthy, and important for Marisol to hear, and for all of us to hear.)